Hazards of Public Art

by - July 11, 2013

“The community feels that this art was given to us, for free, and it's now been taken away to be sold for huge profit. I'm very angry about the Banksy going - we want our Banksy back!”

What is art? And when does it belong to anyone?

My former art teacher once said: “Something is art when people are willing to pay for it”. However, may this be an insight of how we modern westeners look upon it. Or better said, how we've been accused of seeing ka-ching ka-ching instead of it. 

"Slave Labour" by Banksy
I'm of course talking about the Banksy-question. Back in 2012 Banksy, a well known street artist, stencilled one of his famous creations onto the side of a Poundland shop in Wood Green. Only to disappeare earlier this year, gouged from it's place. The piece has been later found in an auction house in Miami, ready to be sold for almost half a million pounds.

This brought a lot of outrage by art fans and even the artist himself. His commentary at that time was a stencil of a rat holding a sign that reads “Why?”.

He said: “Graffiti art has a hard enough life as it is- with council workers wanting to remove it and kids wanting to draw moustaches on it, before you add hedgefund managers wanting to chop it out and hang it over the fireplace. For the sake of keeping all street art where it belongs I'd encourage people not to buy anything by anybody unless it was created for sale in the first place”.

Which reach the question, to who belongs a Banksy? Who's the right owner?

Is it Banksy, who created it? Is it the owner of the private wall? Or is it nobody? Because when nobody actually owns it, anybody can just walk away with it.

The piece was painted on a private wall, so you could plead for the owner that he has the right to sell and that the made fuss is unjustified. “Whoever owns the wall should be able to do with it what they want to. When Banksy painted it, he did not ask permission and it is therefore an act of vandalism. So the owners are entitled to do what they want with it.”

However, when one can sell his Banksy with a huge profit, why can't the rest of the in first place unwilling owners chop theirs out of the wall? There may be an outrun on Banksy owners to sell theirs when the price is high.

As someone suggested, maybe Banksy should devalue his artwork for the sake of keeping it on the streets. “The only way to stop the value of this particular artwork is to do several others the same, I am sure that this will bring the price down. It's typical capitalism and opportunism, that's human nature for you”.

As said, it will bring the price down, but it also will lose its uniqueness. It will lose its edge and thereby no victory for both parties.

But how else can we value something without voicing it into the one thing we know what it means?
Dollars, pounds, euros, it all comes down to one thing: essembling the value. And isn't it more about the outrage of taking something from it's place? And was it meant to be there in the first place?

The sale of “Slave Labour” was cancelled at the last minute without any explanation from the auction house. It's remarkable to think that a few years ago street art was refered to as “graffiti” which held little or no value.

It's interesting that in such a short time, something like a Banksy, went exceedingly up on the cultural heritage ladder and thereby it's value. It's a new insight of how things are changing and how people look upon art.

This isn't the first time a Banksy disappeared from the wall. There's a socalled “Banksy-effect” going on. After Banksy got some recognition, his work got pulled out of the background. It upgraded from underground burden to well desired, high priced collectables. The commercial world opened its doors for him and those whith the same story. 

It's ironic to think that British street art was a reacton against the “dizzying commodification” of the art market in the 90's. “It was created in a playful and spontaneous spirit and it belonged to the people”. Since it's been taken to the market, a discussion arised about who's the owner, while this wasn't the initiate thought. The works were just there, for everyone to gaze at.

What do you think about the auction houses selling street art?
I was very embarrassed when my canvases began to fetch high prices, I saw myself condemned to a future of painting nothing but masterpieces - Henri Matisse


Sources: 1/ 2/ 34

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